When they get rolling the Portland Trail Blazers are a powerful offensive team. They showed as much tonight against the Indiana Pacers, putting 6 players in double figures and scoring 123 points on 52% shooting from the field...a veritable tidal wave of offense. They needed it all, plus an off-night from Pacers superstar Paul George, to offset a scrambling, shaky defense that netted them 11 steals but could have cost them the game. Still, all's well that ends well and tonight ended very well for the Blazers as they downed a quality opponent, 123-111.
The first period of this contest typified the entire evening. The Blazers scored 28 points courtesy of guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe. Three-pointers from assorted forwards frosted the cake deliciously and should have given the Blazers a nice lead. Except Portland's defense showed all the consistency of tapioca pudding run through a garbage disposal.
Terry Stotts' defensive philosophy reads, "Let the opponent have anything they want from mid-range, just don't allow them clean three-point attempts and try to keep them out of the lane." Counting "and-ones", 24 of Indiana's 31 points in the first period came in the paint or off of threes. The deep, thrumming beat coursing through the Moda Center wasn't a scoreboard subwoofer effect, but the throbbing vein in Stotts' forehead threatening to explode.
Phones throughout the region hummed between quarters as Portland's defense went on Amber Alert. Sadly it remained missing through the remainder of the half. Lillard, Gerald Henderson, and plenty of offensive rebounding kept the Blazers running in the second period, netting them another 28 points. Everything they scored, they also gave back. Indiana would hit another 4 triples in the period while reserve guard Rodney Stuckey kept Portland defenders in the spin cycle. The Pacers led 59-56 at the half.
After they gave up a pair of (near) 30-point quarters, tradition called for the Blazers to come out with renewed defensive effort in the third period, throttling down the opponent to 20 or so. But these Blazers are rebels. They don't need no stinkin' tradition. Instead they allowed Indiana 31 points AGAIN, exactly 2 of them coming from mid-range...everything else from triples, short shots, or free throws. Stotts started talking to himself in a mirror just to prove he still existed.
Unable to stop Indiana on defense, the Blazers said, "Screw it" and unleashed an unholy barrage of guard scoring, offensive rebounding, and wing-based three-pointers on the Pacers to the tune of 41 points. It was like getting annoyed by a noisy party your neighbors are throwing, except instead of calling the police, you stick your speakers in the window and crank the volume up to 30. That'll show 'em. And it did. McCollum, Lillard, and Al-Farouq Aminu made plenty of noise and Portland took a 97-90 lead into the fourth.
90 points given up at the end of the third is a disaster. But when you score 97, who cares? That's this game in a nutshell.
Indiana grew increasingly desperate as the fourth quarter progressed. C.J. Miles completed an 8-11 shooting night from beyond the arc, almost saving his team singlehandedly. But after missing a couple layups the Pacers abandoned their inside attack in favor of long shots from the struggling George and threes from everyone else. They waded through most of the game on two solid stilts then tried to finish it hopping desperately on one. It didn't work. Portland's rebounding, passing, and marksmanship carried them to their 123 point total while Indiana managed a healthy, but ultimately inadequate, 111.
The Blazers picked a good night to get hot. They fired 18-36, 50%, from distance. This opened up the floor for 26 assists, 15 offensive rebounds, and high-percentage nights from Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Aminu. As the game wore on and the floor spread Portland's confidence soared and their offense became more varied. The opposite happened for the Pacers. Their scoring avenues got narrower and more crowded as misses ate away their security. George attempted to carry them but managed only 4-17 overall, 0-9 from beyond the arc.
Part of George's poor performance came courtesy of Aminu, Crabbe, and Portland's rangy defenders. Keeping the opponent's #1 option muzzled was one of two things the Blazers did right tonight on defense (11 steals being the other). But George also had plenty of decent opportunities. His release looked random. Call it 50% smart planning by Portland and 50% dodging a bullet. Whatever. It worked.
Even had George been hitting, any team that shoots 52% from the field, 50% from the arc, and 85% from the foul line is hard to beat. The Blazers gave their fans a rare pretty game and a high-quality win on the same night. Portland will take it.
Because we usually undersell him, let's start with Ed Davis and his 7 offensive rebounds, 13 total boards, in 22 minutes. Guard shooting spurred Portland's second-half run, offensive rebounding kept the momentum going. Davis deserves the game ball tonight as much as anyone.
Allen Crabbe had a HUGE night, shooting 7-10 from the field, 4-5 from distance, and scoring 18 in 25 minutes. He was the falling tree that broke the Imperial Walker's back as it was out chasing Ewoks. (2 weeks and counting, right?) Whenever the Pacers concentrated on Lillard or McCollum, the Blazers tossed the ball to Crabbe. You'd need an electron microscope to find any deviation on his shot right now.
Speaking of Lillard and McCollum: 47 points, 8-18 from the arc, 13-13 from the foul line, 14 assists between them. They shot 13-35 from the field overall but their misses still pulled in the defense. They missed 22 shots but the rest of the team missed only 19 combined.
Meyers Leonard had his strongest game since returning from shoulder injury, shooting 5-10, 2-4 from the arc and looking confident doing it. He didn't hesitate or wander...good signs.
Al-Farouq Aminu channeled Nicolas Batum tonight, scoring 13 off of 4-9 shooting, 3-7 from the arc, with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and some pretty good defense. He's starting to become a bankable cornerstone for Portland's "D". They don't have enough blocks to place on top of him yet, but it's still nice to see.
Mason Plumlee had 10 rebounds in 26 minutes, but even more impressively he got free in the lane for beautiful and effective finishes at the rim, providing counterpoint to the melody of the scoring guards. Getting assaulted from one direction is manageable, but it's awfully hard to defend the wall when the invaders are already behind it. That's Plumlee's role for the Blazers.
Noah Vonleh did a little bit of that too, hitting 3-3 shots, every one of them at the rim, off of 2 offensive rebounds.
Moe Harkless went Jack-of-All-Trades hitting a three and providing 5 rebounds and 2 steals in 16 minutes.
Links and Notes
See this big announcement about Blazer's Edge Night, sending 2000 underprivileged kids to the March 28th Blazers-Kings game. As December dawned we were close to 500 tickets donated. How far can we push it before the New Year comes? Rewards aplenty are forthcoming for turning in a great December.
Indy Cornrows will be impressed with several Blazers tonight. Their team has been on a roll. Portland buttered it.
The Blazers face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Pacific.